Using LEAD skills to build intellectual alliances with parents

Let’s start with a simple truth that everyone seems to like to wave in the faces of public school teachers: Our schools are struggling to prepare graduates for the increasingly complex workplaces that they are going to inherit.

As Tony Wagner writes in The Global Achievement Gap, the results of this failure have the potential to be catastrophic:

In short, our young people are now in direct competition with youth from developing countries for many of what traditionally have been considered our ‘good middle-class white-collar” jobs. While some of our students are learning skills that enable them to interpret and manipulate information and data, the sheer numbers of students who are learning these skills in other countries and the fact that they will work for much less put our students at an extreme competitive disadvantage.” (Kindle Location 223-226)

That’s not a new message, right? People – including Thomas Friedman – have have been writing about the consequences of an increasingly connected and knowledge-driven globe for years.

Here’s the hitch, though: Despite repeated warnings about the urgent need to rethink the kinds of skills that we spend our time on in schools, education looks no different today than it did a decade ago.

Worse yet, in an effort to “hold schools accountable,” our #edpolicy leaders – including Bam and Arne – continue to push policies on schools that reward a strict adherence to the kinds of simple skills that can be measured by standardized tests.

But Bam and Arne aren’t the only ones to blame.

Our communities are responsible, too. After all, we simultaneously bemoan the sad state of education in America while electing leaders who make easy choices that perpetuate the status quo.

When we finally realize that standardized test scores are a failed indicator – of our children’s workforce readiness AND of the success or failure of schools and teachers – we might just be ready to move towards more meaningful work in our classrooms.

What would that “more meaningful work” look like?


Here’s what global education expert Matt Friedrick* has to say about the kind of skills that students should be learning in our classrooms:

Leading in today’s conceptual, global age requires entirely new skills for our students, and an education system that delivers these skills. Today’s students will inherit a world that is fundamentally different from the past – one where leadership means communicating effectively in more than one language, confronting challenges in new and innovative ways, adjusting as the world around them changes, and collaborating with a wide range of people.

Friedrick breaks these essential behaviors into a set of five LEAD skills that he believes should be defining the work that we are doing with the students in our schools:

  • Language : Communicating in English and in at least one strategic foreign language.
  • Entrepreneurship : Devising new ways to respond to local, national, and global needs.
  • Adaptability : Adjusting to new information and media; continually learning new knowledge and skills.
  • Diplomacy : Collaborating effectively with increasingly diverse groups of people.

(Read more about each LEAD skill in this one page handout on Friedrick’s website)


Good stuff, isn’t it? If you are a parent, wouldn’t you feel better if your child mastered these skills before graduation?

Sure you would – and you wouldn’t be alone. Business leaders surveyed regularly report wanting workers who are experts at seemingly soft skills like adapting, imagining and collaborating.

Now there’s nothing inherently new about Friedrick’s LEAD skills. They are similar to the seven survival skills laid out by Wagner in The Global Achievement Gap and to the ten skills and behaviors that The Partnership for 21st Century Skills believes in.

But I honestly believe that the LEAD skills framework has the ability to have a far greater impact on American education than Wagner’s work or the work of the P21 team.

Here’s why: The LEAD framework takes a complex concept and makes it approachable to the general public.

Think about it – Wagner’s book has been out since 2008 and the P21 folks have been working in this space since 2002 yet nothing has really changed about the way that we do business in schools.

Why would such good thinking – thinking that forms the foundation of the most progressive conversations we have about teaching and learning in today’s world – go largely unnoticed?

My guess is that parents – the stakeholder that we most need to start pushing for positive change in schools – can’t get their heads wrapped around the language used by individuals like Wagner and the P21 team.

It’s not that the concepts don’t resonate. It’s that the concepts haven’t been delivered in approachable language that parents can embrace.

And that’s what Friedrick has delivered with his LEAD framework.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the only way we’re going to get schools to shift towards the kinds of learning spaces that are necessary for truly leaving today’s kids prepared for tomorrow’s world is to start to develop partnerships with parents.

We need discerning voters. We need intellectual advocates that are willing to push back against the simplistic attempts of #edpolicy wonks to define “mastery.” We need critics who are vocal AND able to articulate a vision for something better than we currently have.

I believe parents WANT to be those partners.

Developing advocacy partnerships, however, depends on dejargonizing the language that we’re using to describe the changes that we believe in.

I believe that Friedrick’s LEAD framework might just be the first step in the right direction that we’ve taken in a long, long time towards getting parents back on our side in the fight for an educational program that matters.

Any of this making sense?


Related Radical Reads:

Is Racing to the Top Even POSSIBLE, Arne?

Arne’s Half-Baked Plan for Fixing Schools

Are we REALLY Preparing Kids for the Global Economy?



*Full Disclosure: I know Matt Friedrick well – and few people have had more of an impact on my thinking as he has. He challenges me regularly and I almost always am thankful for the opportunity to learn from him.

He’s got this right, y’all. And I would say it even if I didn’t know him.

And he’s just started Tweeting. I’d recommend you follow him if you’re interested in learning more about how LEAD skills can change our schools for the better.

He hasn’t posted a ton yet – but I’m sure that over time, his stream will be a valuable resource.